A Heart full of...
This week one media commentator claimed that the inflammometer had reached 11 as different groups debated whether the fires were the result of global warming.
Next week there will be another important matter to debate. Whether the matters are important may depend on how much people talk about them. Which means they may not be intrinsically important, they may just be important to people who want to talk about them.
"Importance" is socially constructed a lot of the time. People's minds (and hearts sometimes) are filled with what other people - mostly the media think we should be thinking about. You can see this on news websites where the stories that sit near the top are the ones that have the most readers. At least it is a kind of democratic way of publishing.
Some people are natural talkers and can turn a conversation to a wide range of topics. Others seem happier to stick to the weather.
But content is not the only thing to listen for. Our speech reveals who we are. It let's out the inner person who lives inside. A famous person once said, "the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."
Content, manner and our inner life go together. But what conditions the heart? The heart is full of whatever you fill it with. Like the mind.
Jesus once discussed the difference of what went into a person when they hadn't washed their hands in a ritually correct manner, and what came out of the heart. He didn't seem to have a high opinion of what came out of people's hearts.
But he did promise a heart change. A cleansing really. By God's Spirit no less. And a refill with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control.
Now a heart filled like that will produce speech worth listening to. And without doubt it will talk about what is really important, or rather who is really important - the Lord Jesus.
From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, said Jesus.
What Kind of Words
Self-righteous moral outrage seems to be a lowlight of social media at present. Given the fickle nature of public discourse it will no doubt metastasise into something else in time.
But in the meantime it has drawn criticism from no less that Barak Obama who suggested young people should actually do something to change society rather than just call out the transgressors.
But the moral outrage method has a long history. Ever since sinners turned up on earth we have been expert at spotting specks of dust in the eyes of others. Or gross errors of driving: some drive too fast, others drive too slow. Some don't know how to merge, others talk too much.
It is fuelled partly by self focus - other people's behaviour annoys me, inconveniences me, goes against how I want things to go.
But sometimes we are just annoyed. Most of us suffer, from time to time, from the "Kick the Cat Syndrome". Which works like this: The boss/colleagues/computers at work are being obnoxious. Worker comes home full of annoyance and shouts at the spouse, who then gets annoyed in turn and takes it out on the kid, who in turn annoys the little brother who treads on the cat's tail and so on.
And while loud noises and sometimes physical blows accompany all of the above, the chief tool is words.
From road rage to spousal arguments, words are the means of attack.
Which is very embarrassing for Jesus' followers. We follow a Lord of blessing who didn't insult or slander or say rude things to people. Who didn't raise his voice in retaliation.
But he was Jesus. And we are to be like him, since he lives in each of us, and lives among us. The other believers we insult, shout at, call names, or get angry with, are people in whom the Spirit of God dwells.
Peter said it like this:
“Suppose someone wants to love life and see good days.
Then they must keep their tongues from speaking evil.
They must keep their lips from telling lies.
James said it this way: With our tongues we praise our Lord and Father. With our tongues we curse people. We do it even though people have been created to be like God. Praise and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it shouldn’t be this way. (Jam 3.9)
The Better Story
The Enlightenment is over. Rationalism has been overtaken by Individualism. Well a proper moral philosopher would probably describe a complex mish-mash of competing ways to think about the world and life.
Those who have been used to reasoned discourse have found themselves at a loss to know how to speak into modern debates.
Jonathan Haidt has outlined six basic ways people tackle moral questions. He puts these on spectrum. Each of the six approaches evaluates questions with a different focus.
His six principles are
Care Fairness Oppression Loyalty Authority Sanctity
Towards the left are approaches that focus on individual needs and concerns. To the right are principles that bind people together.
What is apparent in modern debates (assisted dying is one example) is that the arguments that seem to hold sway and are hard to refute are those that operate with principles towards the left. Personal stories of caring for a dying relative. Questions of justice for various minorities, or special cases etc.
Linked with this is the general use of outrage in mainstream and social media . Barak Obama was quoted at an Obama Foundation meeting suggesting 'that young people needed to actually do things to cause change, not just call others out on social media.
"One danger I see among young people particularly on college campuses is that I do get a sense among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, that the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that's enough," Mr Obama added.'
So what to do if you have a different way of seeing things?
A book by Glynn Harrison called A Better Story: God Sex and Human Flourishing, suggests one approach is to be less reactive but to critique the current morality and ideology on the basis if what it promised. Has it delivered? (No, he says). On the other hand he says we need to learn to better tell the better story of sex and family as God intended it.
And to live it. But living it well is helped by knowing it well. And for many of us the voices in our ears can drown out God's better story if we don't take time and effort to hear it the way God told it.
Zeal for the things of the Lord (John 2:17; Rom 12:8; Tit 2:14) is a normal dimension of New Testament Christianity. For social and theological reasons however, many Anglicans have looked down on the so-called “happy-clappies” of this world. First the Methodists, then the Salvation Army and finally the Pentecostals have been derided for their emotionalism. I once head a bishop suggest that we had the beer and the Assemblies of God had the froth! Whilst demonstrative form of faith infiltrated Anglicanism through the charismatic movement in the 1960’s and 70’s it’s hard to name a functioning church like this in the diocese today. Is it too tough to suggest that the Church in Perth resembles the “lukewarm” believers in Revelation 3:16)? But let me get to the context for these judgements.
Wherever I go in Myanmar I am surprised by the level of intensity amongst the Christians across the country. The people will sit for hours, with Bible and notebook, listening to teaching. Eagerly, indeed noisily, they raise their voices in corporate worship, and come forward en masse for prayer at the end of a meeting. Frankly, this sort of eagerness makes me feel embarrassed concerning my own spirituality and that of our nation. It is a type of spiritual “culture shock” that keeps me going back. The folk there thrive in an atmosphere of extreme spiritual hunger that we desperately need. This is something God and not man has produced.
A tragic text in the Old Testament speaks to our own spiritual apathy. “Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.” (Deut 32:15). The New Testament equivalent might be Jesus’ words to the wealthy Laodicean church, “you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev 3:17). In both cases the people didn’t realise their spiritual dullness until they were told! Surely most of us are like them and cannot see it. What can we do about this? We must pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The repeated exhortations to host or join a prayer group in the church are the way forward. Let’s petition God for something great, the crucified Christ deserves nothing less.
Brickpile or Building
The Christian church is under attack. But the big onslaughts are not from the atheist, or the media, or even from those who want to change the doctrine and practice.
Two old influences are still the most potent in neutralising the life of the church. One is the power of the autonomous individual. The individual is King/Queen in our world. All of us are encouraged to be ourselves, to become what we want to be, to make our own choices and to be independent.
On the other hand the church as institution increases its power and reach. Some of this is aided and abetted by the world of law and insurance. But the power of institutions lies in their ability to claim ownership of their field.
Individualism and corporate power are seriously in tension in our world. In the church the two forces work together to undermine the church as the gathering and family of real believers who meet together and are joined together in Christ.
One result of this is that even the local parish church is seen as an institution which individuals attend, help, associate with, or volunteer in.
It is hard to avoid this kind of association. However one cure is to long for the food that is best fitted to growing as a saved servant of Christ. People who grow with this food are less likely to be confused about church.
The best quality, pure milk for growing is the Lord himself, as Peter says. But to get this milk one has to come to the Lord. And when one does, (Peter changes the metaphor here), we find ourselves coming to a precious living Stone, a stone for building, that sets the whole building up.
And coming to the living stone we discover that we too are living stones that are built together into a house for God. Just ordinary believers, trusting in Christ and being joined with each other because we are joined with him. No independent stones here.
Except that it is easy to act as though we were a brickpile instead of a building. The submission that is needed to be part of a joined-together building is complemented by the strength of being joined with the other bricks around us.
Are you being built together with others?